Shigeru Umebayashi
House of Flying Daggers [OST]



by Liberi Fatali EMERITUS
July 21st, 2005 | 6 replies

Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Despite being well known in South East Asia, Shigeru Umebayashi is not a name that is commonly thought of along with film soundtracks. The House Of Flying Daggers OST is his first foray into the international scene, with the film being shown in both Western cultures like America and England, and Eastern cultures like Shigeru's native country Japan.

Umebayashi faced a tough task in creating a soundtrack that not only featured many elements of ancient Chinese culture music, but also appealed to a more Western audience and possibly the pop culture audience. Few Asian films have managed to break open the door into Western culture, and even fewer film soundtracks. The only notable successes of late have been Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both films received critical acclaim in the West; however neither of their soundtracks managed to make much of a murmur in the music scene.

House Of Flying Daggers is essentially a romance film, despite its martial arts covering. Its themes of love and unity persevere throughout the film. Umebayashi's soundtrack easily encapsulates these themes that may have been neglected if given to another composer. It is not surprising to see Umebayashi capture the romance of the film in superb style, his previous works on film soundtracks such as 2046 and In the Mood for Love have been hair-raisingly beautiful.

Umebayashi manages to add in a hidden elegance in other tracks throughout the album in songs such as Taking Her handand The Peonyhouse that help add to the aura of mystique to the album. Although Umebayashi's subtle approach to the soundtrack may put some younger fans of the film, it helps appeal to the older audience that will appreciate the hidden themes and feelings of the music.

The soundtrack is balanced out with more action driven songs like Battle in the Forest, The Echo Game and No Way Out that give a nice break from all the love songs and peaceful melodies. Instead of opting for more modern instruments, Umebayashi has opted to use a range of traditional Asian instruments like the Pipa, Erhu, Bamboo Flute and Dizi. Although these instruments feature throughout the film, they are used to excellent effect in No Way Out which features a beautiful combination of modern-day string instruments and traditional Chinese flutes such as the Pipa and Dizi as while the percussion in the background helps give it a continuous oscillation.

It is his love songs however that stand out above the rest, although there are not many songs that are not love songs in this soundtrack. Half the songs in the album are in fact love songs. However despite their strikingly large quantity, nearly every one of them differs greatly from the rest. The only songs that are annoylingly similar are Lovers, Lovers (Flower Garden), Lovers (Mei And Jin) and Lovers (Title Song). In essence they are all the same (beautiful) song, although upon close inspection they differ enough to qualify them as worth having on the soundtrack. Lovers is basically the simple version, played with just a tradional Chinese flute and a Chinese Violin called an Erhu. Lovers (Flower Garden) is a more lavish version of the simplified version, with a small Orchestra of string instruments accompanying the Erhu and Pipa. Lovers (Mei And Jin) is another step up in the lavish scale, featuring the Arigat Orchestra. The final version of Lovers, the title song is a another version of the original song, this time with Kathleen Battle who although adds another complex layer to the song, does not seem to do it justice, possibly due to the English lyrics which take away from the Asian influence.

Some of the other songs to take note of in the soundtrack are Mei And Leo, Leo's Theme and Farewell No. 1 & No. 2. All of which are beautiful tracks that are elegant in styling and subtle in nature. Mei And Leo provides another perfect example of Umebayashi at his best on this soundtrack, blending together two very different cultures into one song without resorting to Western styled music or letting the Western style overwhelm the subtle Asian tone.

It can be said that this blend of Asian and Western music cultures has been done before in soundtracks like House Of Flying Daggers and Hero. This however should not take away from the job that Umebayashi has done in mixing the cultures. Umebayashi does not rely on the methods of his predecessors, but instead has produced a more exquisite work that is perhaps superior in some ways to House Of Flying Daggers and Hero.

Although Shigeru Umebayashi does a very good job (especially for a relatively novice composer) at blending both Asian culture and Western culture without letting one dominate over the other. He has not provided an album that is appealing to a young pop-culture audience that rely on instant hooks and in your face messages. House Of Flying Daggers subtle form does appeal however to a mature audience that can hear and appreciate the delicate, ethereal tones to the music.

Because of this, House Of Flying Daggers is not for everyone. Those who like to delve into music and try to find the subtle, beautiful nature will greatly appreciate Umebayashi's work. Those who do not have the patience will find little to enjoy in this soundtrack, and should steer clear of it.

Rating for those who have watched the film: 4.5 / 5
Rating for those who have not watched the film: 4 / 5

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Comments:Add a Comment 
July 21st 2005


Excellent work for a first time review. Keep it up! :thumb:


I watched the movie and it was not bad (though a bit exagerated especially towards the end). The score is quite up to the work on 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' which is one excellent piece of soundtrack work.

Unfortunately I can not remember the movie that well to rate this album... This Message Edited On 07.21.05

Liberi Fatali
July 21st 2005


Oh this isn't my first review, I've reviewed other stuff on my other account. :p

November 26th 2005


Very nice work, Dan. It don't seem like my kind of thing but it's still an excellent review. If I listened to this sort of stuff you would have convinced me to buy an album. :p


Liberi Fatali
November 26th 2005


You should listen to this stuff, and less of that British clap trap. :p

Some of the love songs on this album like Mei and Leo, Farewell No. 2 and Lovers (Mei and Jin) are simply delectable.

November 27th 2005


Great review. This makes me wish I'd payed more attention to the music throughout the film.

Liberi Fatali
May 31st 2006


Listened to this for the first time in months just today.

Still is one of the most emotionally moving soundtracks of this century.

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